WARNING: FULL SPOILERS
Now that was more like it.
The Riddle of the Sphinx was the best episode of Westworld’s second season so far, possibly the whole series. The episode focused on the compellingly complex William (Ed Harris/Jimmi Simpson) and the fractured memories of Bernard (Jeffrey Wright), switching between past and present. Like the pieces of a puzzle, the stories linked together flawlessly, revealing the true intentions of the park: Resurrecting the dead. Amazing direction by series co-creator Lisa Joy, a tightly written script and a fun use of time made this chapter an absolute joy (Pun slightly intented) to watch.
“If You’re Looking Forward, You’re Looking in the Wrong Direction.”
Will-centered episodes were always a strong point last season, but this one may be the best. It examined his past not for justification, but for motivation. Will’s character didn’t become a good guy here. But he’s also not necessarily as bad either. Yes, he has been a misogynistic and often sadistic man…but that good man we met in Jimmi Simpson’s first introduction to the park seemingly reappeared. His “good deed”…saving Lawrence (Clifton Collins Jr) and his family from Craddock (Jonathan Tucker) and the other Confederados…was NOT a complete redemption. As Lawrence’s daughter pointed out, one good deed won’t redeem a lifetime of bad ones. He claimed to be playing the game…but is he really?
Those flashbacks to his visits with James Delos (Peter Mullan) show an acceptance of his terrible past. As Will said, some men deserve to die. The world was better off without the likes of his egotistic father in law…and himself. Was it fatalistic…or acceptance of his own fate? This realization didn’t come instantly. Eagle eyed viewers probably noted the subtly aging Jimmi Simpson and the talk of “establishing a baseline” during those visits…it became evident that this Delos was a Host. This was brilliant direction from Joy, allowing the audience to figure it out themselves while also illustrating how Will’s character changed over time.
Cutting between Harris’ Will confronting Craddock and his men to Simpson’s Will running to his wife after committing suicide was also a nice touch. It was a perfectly executed hint to Will’s possible true motivations at that moment, as he watched Craddock torture Lawrence’s family. And Harris played those scenes perfectly, his normally stoic demeanor cracking ever so slightly. It’s also a shame to see Jonathan Tucker’s scene chewing Confederado go, but his explosive death was a great way to go.
There was a conflict in the Man in Black, showing just how human he could be. And just like any human in this world, his dark side may win out. The arrival of his daughter Grace (Katja Herbers) added another unexpected wrinkle to his journey. It was a cool revelation, one that made an almost nothing character become instantly important. It would explain why Grace knows so much about the inner workings of the park, even more than Stubbs (Luke Hemsworth). Their dynamic should reveal more about Will’s human side.
“Is This Now?”
Bernard’s story line really played up the flashbacks, but also questioned the troubled Host’s grip on reality. His journey into the secret lab was often disturbing, not only for the the visuals, but also for Bernard’s realization that he may not actually be there. Is he just remembering this experience? Or was he actually there? Once again, Joy did an excellent job playing with what the audience was seeing. It was the perfect use of an unreliable narrator. Could we trust Bernard? Or even what we were seeing?
Wright’s quiet performance was part of the success of this story as well. It was off putting in different ways. At first you felt sympathy for him…he was barely holding it together. But those blank stares that slowly turned to flashbacks were unsettling. Especially when it was revealed that Bernard was behind the massacre that wiped out the scientists in the lab. And Bernard didn’t let his newest ally know about this dark turn.
It was great to see Elsie back! She didn’t have the biggest role last season, but she was a key player in the events that eventually led to the host revolution. Shannon Woodward was great in her brief time with Wright, showing a wary sympathy that stayed true to the character.
The fact that she was not in the season opener among the human first responders doesn’t bode well for her ultimate fate…but then again, Charlotte Hale wasn’t there either. Hopefully Elsie sticks around, because Bernard will need some allies.
Then again, maybe he has a more powerful ally returning…
Bernard’s visions revealed that someone else could control of the human/Host hybrids. It couldn’t be Hale…she’s looking for the files. Every other human that showed up on the premiere was looking for that control. Someone put Bernard on his murderous path, and there’s only one person who could do that.
It would be a great reveal, one that would call everything into question. Ford seemed to realize the error of his ways, setting the Hosts free in last season’s finale. What if that all was a cover to keep the technology away from Ford’s enemies? Or does Ford see the human mind existing in a Host as the next logical step in evolution?
Maybe Ford was just a crazy old man who wanted to live forever. Whatever the case may be, Riddle of the Sphinx has opened up several intriguing possibilities for Westworld.
SCORE: 10 OUT OF 10
Westworld airs on HBO Sundays at 9pm